The Old Theater Gear Head The New Theater Outdoor Theater

In the never ending pursuit of perfection I managed to find my way through the fog of the unknowing into a fascinating enclave. I was surrounded by numerous like-minded people, though most had significantly more cash than I. As with so many other projects I have undertaken, their grander scale served as a model for that which was within my financial reach, and served to fuel my creativity. I was unaware, at first, that I had begun the march to a new theater. One of a much grander scale.

I built the support structure for the new theater's screen out of three 2x4s. I notched the uprights so that there would be enough room left on the resulting shelf for the 1/2" melamine 4x8 sheet, plus room for a trim strip to make sure that the bottom couldn't ride out and cause it to fall.

The acoustic tiles (which have been awesome in this 7' high room!) above the uprights were moved out of the way and the uprights attached directly to the joist (which travels left-to-right). Given that the room is only about 20 feet deep and is shared with my office, I had hoped to place the screen as close as possible to (if not on) the wall. The half-height shelf imposed a restriction on this and the nearest accessible joist is about two feet forward from the top of the back wall. This actually turned out to be ideal since it afforded access to the shelf and wiring behind the screen (many of these wires were retired with the RPTV), happens to be approximately the depth of my front speakers (placing their front at the screen), and placed the front of the screen just behind the ceiling tile seam which I would later use to attach the shroud.

The holes created when the tiles were moved are not visible because the screen is surrounded by a black felt shroud. The shroud extends from the floor to the ceiling, and from the left wall to the right wall (excluding the screen obviously!). The shroud also extends along the walls and ceiling about 12 feet so as to occlude one's peripheral vision. It has an amazing effect, especially in the racing simulator! More on the shroud can be found below.

Here's the screen mounted. I used the same kind of clips at the top that you would use to hold a mirror against a wall. Works great!

The screen was painted gray (though it's hard to see it in this picture). I used about a quart of Ralph Lauren Studio White and about a quarter pint of Rust-Oleum Painter's Flat Black (both from Home Depot). I think that I could actually go a little darker, but I am pleased with the current results.

Why gray? Well, the membership of my enclave has some very talented and dedicated enthusiasts. It was determined through experimentation that a gray screen (rather than pure white) had a very positive impact on the ability of digital projectors to display black. This is the Achilles Heel of digital projection (even the highest end) and an area where CRT front projectors retain their mastership. Gray screens tend to reduce the brightness of one's projector, but that is not really a problem with today's high output digital projectors. I have an NEC VT540 that boasts a 160 watt NSH lamp and a 1000 lumen rating. Even in its economy mode of 130 watts, which I use almost exclusively, the output is plenty bright. Note that the uneven shading of the screen is an artifact of the picture, not the paint job!

Here is a picture of the shrouded theater area. I went into enemy territory for this stuff, so everyone better appreciate it! A manly man sure can feel out of place wandering through Joann Fabrics. You also tend to get very strange looks when you request 26 yards of 54" black felt (well, across two trips). But then when you start to explain why, everyone seems fascinated - especially the help which appears to have tired of kids clothes and cozies. As luck would have it, the felt was on sale.

Like almost every other enthusiast reading this, I just wanted to see what it was going to look like. So, I just quickly cut the felt and crammed it up between the ceiling tiles and their support structure. Much to my surprise, I have not had to do anything more to keep them in place. Even the ones that cover the ceiling! I get a few that drop out every now and then (me thinks the kids and cats have something to do with that). Anyway, the quick fix actually worked well for the final product in this case (well, final for this theater :-).

The shroud has the positive effect of reducing audio and video reflections from the side walls. The ceiling already had acoustic tiles so only video reflections needed work there. In a room that is only 7' high and 14' wide this has a substantial effect. The room's width and height are almost completely disguised both visually and sonically. I feel like I am in a much larger room. The soundstage is much wider and less bright than before. The annoying reflections off the walls, originating from the screen, have also been eliminated. This may have also improved contrast a bit (since ambient light has been reduced).

It is thought that a consistent low-light level eminating from behind the screen prevents the human iris from contracting during low-light scenes and can help with contrast in such scenes. I know that there are those who prefer a back-lighted approach. I attempted this prior to the installation of the shroud and found it nothing short of distracting. I much prefer the shroud and the next theater will have a significantly enhanced version of what I did for this one.

I managed to locate a used Rotel RDA980 Dolby Digital external processor to bring the audio up to snuff. THX ProLogic is good, but not nearly as good as DD. I'll wait on the DTS until the next system (assuming that they haven't died off). Of course if I'm lucky, by then there might be 12.2 available! Sorry, I loose focus occasionally. A Home Theater PC (HTPC) was also added to the mix. Actually, it was just the PC that I had built earlier in the year with a DVD drive and TV tuner card added. Had I known about HTPCs sooner there would have been a few changes in the line up (the Viper II would never have happened), but overall I am quite pleased.

Since completing the theater, I watch a lot less TV and that which I do watch is mostly High Definition. We have only a few DVDs and almost all of them are for the kids. Avia, The Holy Grail, and T2 are it for the adults. However, with access to HBO-HD and Showtime-HD as well as the HD editions of networking programs we are not at a loss for things to watch. On the extremely rare occasions when we really need to see "something else", we can always raid the "expansive" 100 title DVD collection at the local rental place (one of the few shortcomings to living in the sticks).

The seating consists of a single row with the viewers' heads about 10'-11' from the screen. Behind this row is my desk. The speakers hang to the sides, just above the viewers' heads. Seating is the comfortable couch that I managed to pilfer from the living room, but not extravagant as can be seen in some home theaters (maybe the next theater ;-).

All of this is, of course, just a warm up for that which I hope to accomplish at the new house (whenever that gets built). I should have a larger room available, with a much higher ceiling, and room for 2-3 stepped rows of seating. My hope is that I can find the cash for a very large rear projection configuration. Who knows, maybe even a DILA (I can dream can't I?!).